ADHD, Mental Health and Creative Burnout with Jarvis Johnson
Nov 22, 2023 – minute read
Nov 22, 2023 – minute read
Editor’s note: Throughout the month of November, fundraisers and events bring attention to the often under discussed topic of men’s health. We spoke with content creator, Jarvis Johnson, to learn his perspective on neurodivergence, mental health and burnout.
There’s no shortage of funny content on YouTube: skits, standup and, in the case of Los Angeles-based creator, Jarvis Johnson, commentary. With over 3 million subscribers across his channels, Jarvis is a well loved comedian and creator, but there’s something else that makes his videos unique: his incredible sincerity.
When he’s not goofing on the latest hit dating show or spending an entire week in the Metaverse, Jarvis uses his channel and co-hosted podcast, Sad Boyz, to speak candidly about his mental health and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). His long standing tagline “trying my best” isn’t just self depreciation, it’s a gentle reminder to his audience that their best is enough. We spoke to Jarvis about his creative process, burnout, and taking care of your mental health.
Jarvis: My journey on YouTube actually started when I was in high school. YouTube was just a place to put videos that people could watch and I uploaded a couple (one of which was me dancing to a song from High School Musical 2) and it got more attention than I was expecting. I responded to that by not posting any more videos, because I was nervous to put myself out there.
In 2016, I started college, pursuing a computer science degree and when I graduated, I became a software engineer at a startup where everyone was a really big fan of YouTube. Having a channel and being a fulltime creator had been on my bucket list since that first video in high school, so when I went to VidCon for work I had this moment where I was like, okay, I’m going to do this.
At first, I uploaded comedic stories about my life and then pivoted to videos about software engineering because I saw there was a market for it. Then, eventually, I discovered commentary, which was a genre on YouTube that was really appealing because I could do comedy without using my own life or career as a backdrop for those stories. I was fortunate to have some videos do well so I was able to pivot my content into that and then in 2019, I went full-time.
I don't want to portray ADHD as a negative thing at all. We're all different, but having a name for it helped me look into resources that could really benefit me.” Jarvis Johnson
Jarvis: I'm extremely lucky and grateful to be in this position, but the transition sucked! It was so hard just because I benefit so much from structure and from systems that are already in place. Going into my own self-driven work, I needed to build up those systems and structures from scratch.
Then lockdown happened maybe a year into me going full-time and that was very hard for my mental health and my productivity. Eventually I realized that I needed to hire someone to help with my video production and also just to be there to hold me accountable to get things done. I also started leaning more on my management and editors and finding collaborators. It’s been a lot of trial and error but I’m happy with the progress I’ve made with my team.
Jarvis: ADHD was a bit of an uncredited supporting cast member of my life because I wasn't diagnosed until I was 25 when I started taking my mental health seriously. I've now retroactively looked at my life's experiences through the lens of like, "Oh, I had undiagnosed ADHD and I had no idea!" I performed well on tests, but wasn’t able to do my homework. I had trouble focusing while I was reading and I even experienced things like rejection sensitive dysphoria, which is this intense feeling of rejection that a lot of people with ADHD have. Post diagnosis I had to figure out what that meant moving forward.
I don't want to portray ADHD as a negative thing at all. It just is. We're all different, but I think that there are many things in this world that are built for neurotypical people and having a name for my ADHD helped me look into resources that could really benefit me.
Jarvis: Definitely. It's sometimes a challenge to stay on topic because there's so many thoughts that I'm having at once all the time.I used to sometimes spend a whole day editing a one minute segment of a video because I just got super fixated on that little piece. I knew that it wasn't strategic, it wasn't going to make the engagement of the video better, but what it did do was allow me to have a cool, creative outlet. Also that little detail can sometimes be people's favorite thing.
I love going above and beyond for no reason and I think that's fun. I like my brain! There's challenges, but I feel like without it, I wouldn't be myself and I think that the journey of gaining the skills to work with myself to achieve my goals is more cathartic and interesting than just snapping my fingers and fixing all of my problems.
Instead of working yourself to the bone and forcing yourself to have to stop for some indeterminate amount of time, taking care of yourself intermittently and being kind to yourself adds a lot of value to your life.” Jarvis Johnson
Jarvis: Being kind to yourself is kind of a cliche at this point, but I do think it's very, very real. I have a lot of negative self-talk and I get frustrated at myself for the silliest things — I beat myself up the other week because I lost in a chess tournament but I haven't played since I was 13 years old. In what world am I expected to be excellent at chess? I think it's about taking a deep breath, letting yourself off the hook.
Not everyone's situation is the same, so I can't be prescriptive, but what I like to tell myself is "Take a break, everything can wait. Everything is negotiable." You'd be surprised because when push comes to shove and you really are burnt out, things have to stop, you know what I mean? In that situation, you have to stop. So instead of working yourself to the bone and forcing yourself to have to stop for some indeterminate amount of time, taking care of yourself intermittently and being kind to yourself adds a lot of value to your life.